• Queensland Ballet's Dance for Parkinson's program.  Photo: Christian Tiger.
    Queensland Ballet's Dance for Parkinson's program. Photo: Christian Tiger.

Queensland Ballet, Queensland University of Technology and the University of Queensland have joined forces to study the effects of dance on people living with Parkinson’s disease.

Experts in neuroscience, psychology and physiotherapy from the two universities have been studying Queensland Ballet’s Dance for Parkinson’s program, a pilot community dance program, to measure the benefits for participants.

The program offered a series of 75-minute classes, consisting of technique class and creative/compositional activities, accompanied by live music and followed by afternoon tea.  Through the program participants learned extracts of The Nutcracker and Romeo and Juliet, watched the company perform and met its dancers.

Over nine months, the research team charted the progress of 11 of the 60 participants with Parkinson’s.   "Overall, the participants saw an improvement in their functional mobility while dual tasking, which is moving their arms and feet simultaneously," reports Professor Graham Kerr, a neuroscientist with QUT's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation and the President of Parkinson's Queensland.  "We also saw improvements in gait cadence and velocity while walking in a straight line and while dual tasking. Participants' physical discomfort decreased, they were more confident with balancing activities and their ability to communicate improved.  Observations during dance classes also showed increased stability, posture and greater reach in physical movement among the participants.”

The benefits extended beyond the physical, says Professor Kerr.  "These cognitive and physiological improvements are very encouraging. But as a representative of Parkinson's Queensland, what really excites me are the broader, multi-dimensional benefits of QB's program, which also support participants' emotional wellbeing."

Head of QUT Dance Associate Professor Gene Moyle, who is also a sport and exercise psychologist and Queensland Ballet Board Director, is also enthusiastic about the benefits to participants’ emotional state.  "It was truly moving to hear of the significant benefits that so many of the participants reported experiencing, particularly regarding their increased sense of self, enjoyment in life, and of moving past how they, others and society defined them due to the challenges that PD presents," Professor Moyle says.  "The program provided not only an opportunity for participants to express their artistic, creative side, but helped build a strong sense of community between the participants and the QB staff and dancers.  We observed that participation in these classes and the 'outside the studio' experiences helped restore participants' dignity and confidence - they reported feeling happier, more optimistic, and motivated as a result.  Some even reported that the program enabled them to actually identify as 'dancers', rather than people with Parkinson's, which had a wonderfully empowering effect."

The participants concur.  Demetri Patrikios, 81 years old and married with three children and seven grandchildren, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in December 2005. “I find that my movement has been greatly facilitated since I enrolled in the program,” comments Patrikios.  “The effects on my quality of life have been inspirational and my mood has lifted.”  His wife Effie remarks, “It’s so inspiring to see all the participants’ embracing the ballet environment. It is particularly heart warming to be part of a group who even though they share an illness, have never the less been give a wonderful chance to share friendship and camaraderie in a special setting. We look forward to each week with great anticipation and have been motivated through the program to participate in other activities as well.”

The Dance for Parkinson’s program has resumed in 2015.  For more information head to Queensland Ballet's website or phone (07) 3013 6666.  More information about dance classes for people with Parkinson’s can also be found on the Dance for Parkinson's website

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